There’s a whole lot to see in and around Fort Davis – in fact, too much to fit into one day. However, there is a surefire way to get a good flavor of our area, and that’s to take a trip around the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop.
The whole trip will take you about 2-3 hours to do without stopping, and longer if you decide to take in the scenery with photographs. The Davis Mountains Scenic Loop is about a 75-mile jaunt, through wide-open windswept desert prairie and twisting, winding mountain roads. You should always make sure you have plenty of gas beforehand – it’s recommended to fill your tank in town – and be sure to have basic car repair tools on hand, as cell service can be spotty at best along parts of the road.
There are two options for driving the scenic loop, both of which will start and end in Fort Davis. The southern section begins with more wide-open vistas of Carpenter, Haystack, and Puertecitas Mountains, while the northern part has more curves, getting you into the mountains and higher elevation more immediately. Be sure to pack a lunch, as there are two designated spots to have a picnic – the Point of Rocks roadside park along the southern part of the loop, and the Madera Canyon Trailhead along the northern part – both of which have tables and shade trees. We’d recommend going to Stone Village Market for supplies – they have a full-service deli with daily soup and sandwich specials that hit the spot.
Regardless of which part you choose to drive first, you’ll be experiencing pristine land, going by iconic Davis Mountain peaks such as Sawtooth Mountain, Blue Mountain, and Mount Livermore, the highest peak of the Davis Mountains. Photography is encouraged, but please keep in mind that most of the surrounding land is private property – don’t cross over any fences. If driving the Scenic Loop during the evening or at night, remember that this country is untamed – be on the lookout for wildlife that may wander onto the road. As with far west Texas and Jeff Davis County being situated in the high desert, please be aware of current burn bans – please, don’t park in tall grass or throw out lit cigarettes.
Driving the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop is a wonderful way to experience what our neighborhood has to offer. Out here, there exists a part of Texas that is seldom seen. It’s not uncommon to hear folks compare the Davis Mountains to higher montane places in New Mexico and Colorado. Take the trip and see for yourself! We bet that you’ll be wanting to come back for more.
Staying a few days affords you a chance to take in more of what Fort Davis and the area has to offer. While spending a night or two, you can still get out and go for a scenic drive, while having time to visit places like the McDonald Observatory and take in one of their exceptional star parties.
The University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory is about a half-hour drive from “downtown” Fort Davis, way up in the Davis Mountains on Texas State Highway Spur 78 – the highest paved road in Texas. Situated atop Mount Locke, the Observatory offers miles and miles of unrestricted views of the surrounding high desert landscape – go there during the day for pictures, a tasty snack at the StarDate Café, or to browse the unique selection of souvenirs at the gift shop in the Frank N. Bash Visitor Center. Then, as the sun sets over far west Texas and night falls on the high desert, be prepared for the clearest views of the darkest skies in this part of the world. During a star party, you will be educated by top minds in their field about all things celestial at the Observatory’s amphitheater. Don’t forget to pack a jacket, as temps on the mountain top can get chilly quickly once the sun goes down – the elevation of Mount Locke is well over a mile high at 6700 ft! Once your visit to the Observatory and Fort Davis comes to an end, you can keep up with the stellar happening’s courtesy of the StarDate radio program. Listen to StarDate Monday thru Sunday at 9:59a and 6:59p via Marfa Public Radio – streaming from far west Texas to wherever you are online at marfapublicradio.org.
To see what programs the Observatory has planned, make reservations, or to find out more information, visit their website at mcdonaldobservatory.com, or give them a call at (432)-426-3640.
If you’re still curious and wanting to learn more about our area, don’t miss out on the Rattlers and Reptiles Museum – a stop sure to bring out your inner herpetologist. At Rattlers and Reptiles, you can view more than 100 live reptiles and amphibians on exhibit, and come face to face with local desert mammals, venomous arachnids, and insects – all at one convenient, safe location. The stewards of Rattlers and Reptiles are knowledgeable orators on all things that have scales or that crawl in our part of the Chihuahuan Desert, and would be happy to answer any questions that come up while observing these necessary critters – living pieces of our environment that keep our desert ecosystem healthy.
Rattlers and Reptiles is located across the street from Fort Davis National Historic Site at 1400 North State Street and is open seven days a week from 10a – 6p, or by appointment for those wanting a private viewing or with a group.
A week or longer
Spending a week or longer in Fort Davis lets you see and do even more in our beautiful neighborhood – and rest assured, it will be time well spent.
To start off, be sure to check out Fort Davis National Historic Site. Step back in time and walk amongst restored historical buildings from a time when the southwest was a little bit wilder. Learn about the Buffalo Soldiers who lived and worked the rugged land, watch informational videos about the old fort, take a self-guided tour of the grounds, have a snack at the shaded picnic area, or go for a hike. Along with history, FDNHS has several trails to hoof, with viewpoints overlooking the countryside allowing for exceptional photo opportunities.
Fort Davis National Historic Site is open from 8a to 5p every day, so be sure to plan accordingly – it’s best to get an early start in order to see what all the old fort has to offer.
After spending a day at the fort, your appetite for exploring is probably ready for more. If that’s the case, head up the road to Davis Mountains State Park. The state park is home to miles of trails, ranging from easy loops to more strenuous out-and-backs in the primitive area. To warm up, check out the Headquarters Trail, a short, appropriately named trail located right next to the park headquarters, where you’ll first check-in. This trail is a little more than a fourth of a mile and a great way to get acclimated to the terrain. Once you’ve got that one under your belt and set up your tent or hooked up your RV, try out one of the longer trails. Located at the southwest corner of the park is the Indian Lodge Trail, which will take you along parts of the park’s boundary, with views of Blue Mountain, neighboring ranchland, and views of Mount Locke and the McDonald Observatory to the north. The Indian Lodge Trail connects with the Montezuma Quail Trail, all in all coming in at about 2 ½ miles. A favorite of ours at the Chamber is the Old CCC Trail (about 1 ½ miles). What makes this one so great, is that while hiking, you have the chance to rest at the well-loved rock structure which was built in the 1930s by the trail’s namesake, the Civilian Conservation Corps. After a rest, you have the option to continue hiking onto a linked trail with Fort Davis National Historic Site – the North Ridge Trail – allowing you to keep the adventure going. If you plan on doing the whole CCC Trail at the State Park and North Ridge Trail, it’s a good idea to have someone with a car at the National Historic Site to shuttle you back to your campsite – the ups and downs of the trail can be pretty tiring! Lastly, for those who are wanting more of a backpacking experience, look into the trails at the state park’s primitive area. In the primitive area, you’re able to hike in your stuff and set up shop at one of several backcountry sites. You’ll feel like you have the whole mountain to yourself in the backcountry – with one of the best spots to watch our famous far west Texas sunrises and sunsets at Limpia Creek Vista. Don’t feel like roughing it? No problem! Inside the boundaries of the state park is the Indian Lodge, a comfortable, cozy hotel where you can wash off the trail dust and sleep in a comfy bed. The lodge also has the popular Black Bear Restaurant – great for breakfast and whenever else you don’t feel like firing up the Coleman stove or JetBoil. As your time at Davis Mountains State Park ends, take a trip up Skyline Drive – another popular viewpoint, where you can gaze down into Keesey Canyon, with Blue Mountain standing tall in the distance. The aforementioned trails are only a part of what you can get into at Davis Mountains State Park, and the staff that work there have a wealth of knowledge of local flora, fauna, and history. Get in touch with them to find out more information and what ranger lead programs are going on – it’s something different every week! Davis Mountains State Park is just west of Fort Davis on Texas Highway 118.
The hiking doesn’t end there though – you can also go for a walkabout at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. Located about five miles south of Fort Davis, CDRI is a nature center dedicated to teaching all about the Chihuahuan Desert. Guided tours are available to groups of ten or more, or you can strike out on your own. Five different trails are available at CDRI, so you can take it easy with the Hummingbird and Butterfly Trail or go for more of a challenge with the Clayton’s Overlook Trail. CDRI is also home to botanical gardens highlighting the diverse flora of the high desert, and exhibits on geology, far west Texas birding, and area mining history. CDRI is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 9 am to 5 pm.
For all outdoor activities, be sure to pack appropriate clothing. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toed shoes will keep the sun and pokey plants at bay. Lightweight hats with a wide brim are essential in the warmer months, as is sunscreen. Colder months can be deceptive – it may be 70 degrees and sunny during winter days, but at nights the temps can – and do – drop off significantly, particularly in higher elevations. Most importantly – be sure to bring plenty of water! Camelbak backpacks are a great way to haul your water conveniently from trail to trail and let you sip as you go. Bring your camera with you too, as there are many chances to take stunning photos of our mountains and vistas – you’ll for sure want to share your trip photos with others and have them to remember your time out west of the Pecos.
The most important thing to do while visiting Fort Davis and far west Texas – relax! Enjoy yourself. It’s no secret the pace of life in far west Texas is slower than it is in big cities. Take it all in. Sip a cup of Texas Coffee Roasters coffee while being immersed in the scenery at your campsite. Stop, talk, and get to know the people you come across. Take a stroll down main street to the Jeff Davis County Courthouse. If you’ve traveled a long distance, there’s no need to rush from one thing to the next – it’s ok to take your time. Fort Davis, the Davis Mountains, and far west Texas are where amazing photographs are taken, life-long memories are made, and stories come to be that will be told and retold. Whatever you decide to do, however long you can stay with us, we at the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce hope you have a great time. We’re here to help you make your trip the best it can be. The above itineraries are just a sample of the fun that can be had out here. If you are planning a trip out west and have any questions, please feel free to get in contact with us. We’d be happy to help in any way that we can!